Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Cautionary Tale

There was an unfortunate situation in Iowa Falls a couple of weeks ago. A very troubled young man was killed in a standoff with police, but that's not the most troubling part of the story. No, the most troubling thing is that 22 police officers formed a circular firing squad and shot *at best* 25% hits from 8 to 25 feet away. Read the article and watch the video here before continuing so I don't have to write a sketch of the AG's report. Personally, I think the suspect committed suicide by cop, and I don't fault the cops for shooting, as Fitz can be seen with a gun in his hand as he fell to the ground. The shoot was probably justified, but the tactics and accuracy are totally indefensible.

So, we have 22 officers on scene, a four-man takedown team, and one armed and dangerous disturbed person. Sixty-eight (68!) rounds were fired by five officers and the suspect's family say he was struck 17 times. That works out to exactly 25% hits. The officers formed a circle around the suspect and fired at eachother, as can be seen in the video.

So what went wrong?

First, tactics. When I was a cop, I worked with other officers from other departments regularly. But we never trained together, nor trained for situations like this. So when the fecal matter hit the oscillating blades, there is a good chance that there was no chain of command (or likely several independent chains of command, which is worse) nor a plan of action aside from what they could cook up in just a couple of minutes. The four-man takedown team was a good idea, but the lethal-cover officers should have been moved out of the line of fire and instead of a circle, they should have formed an L-shape. Circular firing squads are a bad idea, and EVERYONE there should have seen the problem and made some effort to fix it. They are extremely lucky that no officers were shot.

Second, accuracy. The number of hits in this situation is absolutely sad. I did the math, and it works out to every officer shooting 13 or 14 rounds, and hitting a maximum of FOUR times. From the video, we see that the takedown team behind Fitz was at most 10 feet away, and the other two firing officers were in the middle of the street on the opposite side. This is at most 30 feet away. All officers had their weapons drawn, and the muzzles were probably either on target or at the low ready position. How you can miss 75% of the time from 10 yards is beyond me, but I do have a theory. The suspect was wearing a ballistic vest, so I think the officers were trying for head or groin shots. I don't know the make or model of the vest he wore, but I can't imagine it would have stopped a volley of .40S&W. Even if it did, it was soft armor and he still would have suffered quite a beating from the rounds. I don't know if any officers had long guns, but this would be a good case for cover officers carrying AR15 carbines with green tip. Really, any FMJ round fired from a rifle will shred soft armor. But, you still have to hit your target.

The purpose of this article isn't to beat up the officers (though a light thrashing is in order for missing 51 times from less than 10 yards). I do have suggestions of how to prevent this sort of thing in the future.

1- Planning.
There needs to be an established emergency chain of command. Department X's ranking officer on scene is in charge, period.

Also, the Army's "Five Point Contingency Plan" would be a good outline for making a quick tactical plan. The takedown team could have coordinated with the perimeter cover officers to create a distraction in order to deploy less-lethal measures or just tackle the guy. And, if everything went all to hell, there's a plan for who will shoot in what direction and fall-back positions for the takedown team. All this planning can be done in a minute or two if you've practiced. I used it a couple of times on overwatch missions to move a small DDM team to better recon positions outside our patrol base. Everyone knows what's going on, and what to do in most foreseeable situations. And it's easy.

2- Accuracy.
Practice is the obvious answer, but it goes a little deeper than that. There was time to get 22 officers from four different departments on-scene, so there was time for one or two guys to go get long guns and set a proper perimeter.

Also, the good old fashioned mag dump is an acceptable tactic now and then. It wasn't in this situation though. 51 bullets hit everything except their intended target. Shooting once or twice and then re-assessing the threat is perfectly acceptable,  and also easy to do without sacrificing security. Travis Haley's phrase "thinkers before shooters" echoes all over this situation.

Of the seven or eight people who routinely read this, if you are police officers or know any, please encourage them to get the proper training, and think about catastrophic situations like this unfortunate case.

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